While I was watching this film, I was reminded constantly of something Kurt Vonnegut had written when talking of the basics of creative writing. Basic rule #2 was: Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. The next rule was: Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
In a very literal way, almost every scene of The Flight of the Phoenix resonates with that need for a glass of water. Chapped lips, cracked skin, a desperation for water—and the need to accomplish a task that certainly means the difference between life and death.